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Australian agency denies gagging climate researchers

Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), has denied claims that it prevents researchers from publishing work on politically-sensitive issues such as climate change, reports Nature News [subscription].

An ecological economist at the agency, Clive Spash, had a paper accepted for publication in the journal New Political Economy earlier this year, only to find out two weeks later that it had been withdrawn by a CSIRO official because it had not yet been through an internal approval process.

In the article, Spash reportedly criticized carbon trading schemes for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, commenting that they are ineffective even if politically popular.

CSIRO staff are prevented from commenting on matters of policy. The agency has a process in place to ensure that staff only communicate on the results of their research, but Spash argues that such a policy presents real difficulties for academics working in socio-economics. As Nature News reports:

“There’s a real issue here about people working in the socio-economic area," [Spash] told one reporter. “It’s not at all clear to me how these people are supposed to work and do their job while trying to meet these general guidance principles that have been interpreted at present to say that we’re not allowed to comment on any government policy at any level of government, anywhere in the world.”

Spash apparently submitted the paper before an internal decision was made, having become frustrated with the slowness of the process and with wrangling over specific wording.

A CSIRO employee told Nature News last Friday that the incident stemmed more from management styles and conservative interpretation of the rules, rather than from any political pressure.


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